Rory McIlroy opened with a three under par 69 at the Masters Tournament, leaving the Grand Slam-chasing Northern Irishman three shots off the lead of Augusta National specialist Jordan Spieth.
The four-time Major winner McIlroy would join an elite list of players to have claimed all four of the Major Championships if he were to earn a Green Jacket this week and, having won a first title in 18 months two weeks ago on the US PGA Tour, entered the week full of confidence.
Opening with a birdie, the 28 year old from Holywood had a steady if unspectacular front nine before birdies at the 13th and 15th, along with three crucial par saves in the final three holes, moved him into a share of fourth position.
“I made one mistake, the bogey on seven. But apart from that, I missed a couple of birdie chances early on, and I just told myself to stay patient out there. I think anything around 60 out there is a pretty good score. You look at it and not anyone is really getting away. Jordan had a pretty strong finish there. But this is my best start in a few years and it’s such a hard golf course to play catch up on. If you start to chase it around here, that’s when you start to make mistakes.” – Rory McIlroy
He was joined there by fellow European Tour Members Rafa Cabrera Bello of Spain, Haotong Li of China, American Patrick Reed and Swede Henrik Stenson, among others, as 2015 Masters Champion Spieth put on another masterful display at the pristine Georgia venue to move two strokes clear on six under par.
“If I look back on my highlights for the day, I’d say I had three of them. Two of them were bogeys and one was an eagle. My bogey save that I made on seven was a fantastic putt that kept it going, I saw a putt go in. It was a very difficult putt, and I could have dropped to over par, and it led to stepping on eight tee feeling regrouped.” – Jordan Spieth
The performance of the day from a European Tour Member came from Matt Kuchar, who was just two shots off the pace on four under par alongside Tony Finau of the USA after a stunning back nine which included five birdies.
“I was just really excited to get the round going. I had some early nerves, but played some good holes early. I actually got pretty fortunate on the fourth hole to walk away with bogey. I made about a 15‑footer for bogey, and I felt like that kind of made things okay. I was staring a double‑bogey in the face and thought, this is going to be a rotten beginning to my Masters. But to make that putt, I thought, I’m still in it and I haven’t kind of ruined a round. I played some pretty good golf, particularly from the eighth hole in.” – Matt Kuchar